His partner patrolling the top of the Vikings defense, Anthony Harris, has yet to make a Pro Bowl, but after coming off a 2019 campaign where he tied for the league-lead in interceptions (6), Harris is finally getting some respect around the NFL as the highest-ranked safety in 2019 by Pro Football Focus (PFF).
PFF named the top safety tandems in the NFL, and by no surprise, the Vikings starting duo was at the top of the list for the 2020 season after finishing No. 1 in 2019. Here’s what PFF’s Solomon Wilcotts had to say:
“The struggle has been real for opposing quarterbacks. The Vikings safeties have allowed a combined 67 receptions from 110 targets in primary coverage over the past two seasons, giving up just 797 yards in the process. More impressive, however, is the fact that they’ve surrendered only two touchdowns while coming away with 17 interceptions over that timeframe — two more interceptions than the league’s next closest safety group.”
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Both Safeties Land Among CBS Sports’ Top 5
Patrik Walker ranked Smith fourth and Harris fifth among the NFL’s top 10 safeties. The duo are the only two players on the list who are on the same team. That spells good news as the Vikings will need stability in the secondary that’s replace three starters at cornerback.
Only the Kansas City Chiefs‘ Tyrann Mathieu, Pittsburgh Steelers safety Minkah Fitzpatrick and New York Jets safety Jamal Adams, who’s recently been in a contract dispute with his team, rank above the Vikings duo heading into the 2020 season.
Pro Football Focus graded safeties for their 2019 performances and rated Harris the best safety in the league and Smith fourth.
Harris recently signed his franchise tender for the 2020 season but will be an unrestricted free agent next offseason.
Harris and Smith Among the ‘Ideal’ Secondary in 2020
PFF recently built what it imagines the “ideal” NFL secondary as the league continues to move towards high-octane passing offenses. Smith was selected as the ideal player to play in a split-safety system, while Harris was given honorable mention, meaning few safeties in the league complement each other better.
Here’s what PFF senior analyst Sam Monson wrote about the duo:
“At safety, the debate is between which system is better overall — a single-high one that plays primarily Cover 1 or Cover 3, or a split-safety system that employs variations of Cover 2, 4 and 6. Ultimately, I think you have more flexibility if you use the latter as your primary structure, which has knock-on effects on the types of safety you need. Instead of searching for a true rangy single-high free safety, and an enforcing box safety, you need a hybrid of both. In fact, you need two of them. The best prototype of that mix of skills has been Minnesota’s Harrison Smith for a number of years.
While Smith wasn’t at his best in 2019, he was still the third-highest graded safety in the league with an 89.8 overall mark. Smith has the range to play over the top, the physicality to play underneath and the versatility to move all over the defense play-to-play and make any kind of coverage shell work. At a position where consistency year-to-year is extremely hard to maintain, Smith has five seasons with a PFF grade over 80.0, and two more of 75.0-plus. The only season of his career that would be considered a ‘down year’ was shortened due to injury.
Smith’s teammate Anthony Harris has a very real case to be on this team, as well, but only a smaller sample size keeps him off. You could make a good case that the Vikings actually have both of the prototype players for this style of defense, which makes sense given it’s the one that Mike Zimmer employs himself.”
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